National power and its characteristics

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on national power and its characteristics for CSS, PMS and other competative examinations

National power can be defined as an ability of a country to achieve its goals and interests even when they clash with the goals of another states. John T. Rourke, provides the easiest definition of power in his book “ International Politics on World Stage” by comparing power with the money. According to him, power is like money. Both are assets that are used to acquire things. Only difference is that money buys things while power causes things to happen.  

Joseph Nye writes, “Power is like weather. Everyone talks about it, but few understand it.” “ Power is like love…. easier to experience than to define or measure.”

Characteristics of power

Power possesses diverse characteristics that are mentioned below and will further clarify its definition:

Power is dynamics:

It means, power is not static or remains same all the period, but it keeps changing by time. For example, Previously, the world was divided into different tribes and a tribe with a large population was considered powerful. Afterward, people invented some fighting equipment like arrows and swords. Consequently, the power shifted from population to fighting equipment. After the passage of time, some tribes conquered other and formed a larger empire shifting the power to the realms. The British Empire is the best example to explain the power shifting towards kingdoms. In 1945, the US tested its first nuclear bomb and soon the soviet, US, France and so on followed the suit. At that time power shifted towards the nuclear weapons. The bomb then influenced the strength of any country. After the end of cold war, the countries placed their entire focus on the economic development and business oriented polices like free trade were also framed. Besides, the advance in technology like transportation also boosted the economic activities. Now, economy determines the power of the countries. Thus, power is dynamic and does not remain static all the time.

Power is relative:

We cannot measure power of any country directly without making an analogy between two states. For instance, China is considered an economic power of the world. It has been given this title after comparing its economic strength to the US. Besides, we cannot say that the US is the super power unless we specify as compared to whom. Thus, power is called relative because it cannot be measured without specifying the comparison of one country with another.

Power is multifaceted:

According to a layman, power is the military strength of a country. The more the professional and well-trained army a country possesses, the more is it powerful. However, power is actually multidimensional. It is comprised of tangible elements like weapons and intangible elements like public morale. Hence, power is multidimensional and includes all the elements of a state such as geography, people, government, national infrastructure, technology and natural resources among others. For example, Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires” because nation after nation failed to occupy its territory. The only asset that acts as its power and prevents empires to occupy its territory is its mountainous topography. This is a classical example to understand the multidimensional nature of power.

Power is situational:

A country’s power varies according to the situation. For instance, the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and within few days it was able to drive the Taliban out from the territory. It achieved quick victory. However, the Taliban assembled in 2003 and launched a guerrilla war against the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Owing to the topography, the US forces became their soft targets because they were familiar with the topography of the country. Thus, the situation changed after the guerrilla war and the NATO forces started to witness more causalities. The power shifted towards the Taliban to such an extent that the US decided to end the war by engaging in negotiation with the militants. Trump is moving fast on the initiatives to drive his country out of Afghan’s mess. It is also a good example to explain the power as situational.


Thus, the power is the sum total of all the assets and elements of a state that are required to achieve its national interest. It has four major characteristics. It is dynamic, relative, multifaceted and situational. The definition of power is mostly misjudged and seen through the narrow prism of military strength.



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